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7.30 pm

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) for that intimate portrait of his constituency. I have a previous connection with it, in that I was a member of a book club based in Newton Abbot. I do not know whether it still exists, but perhaps my reading of its books assisted me in my future career. I am sure that I shall follow the hon. Gentleman's parallel career with great interest.

It is a great privilege for me to speak in this debate. In the previous century, hon. Members representing my party never had the opportunity to debate a legislative programme at the start of a full second term in government. The opportunity now afforded to us could shape the future of our country for a generation--a generation that I hope will never have to face the hardships that our parents and their parents had to endure.

I am proud to follow in the footsteps of John Gunnell, who represented the people of Morley, Middleton and Rothwell for nine years. In the last year or so of his membership of the House, his health suffered a debilitating decline and I am sure that all hon. Members will join me in wishing him respite and a full recovery from his illness. Despite his often painful condition, John was still determined to come down to Westminster to perform his duties. He did not always complete the journey and, on a couple of occasions, had to be diverted to hospital.

In that regard, John Gunnell showed the same devotion to duty as another predecessor of mine, Sir Alfred Broughton, whose vote--facilitated by a journey by ambulance--helped to keep an earlier Labour Government in power. Perhaps it was appropriate that John served diligently on the Select Committee on Health. He was not only a patient; he was also very impatient to see the regeneration of the national health service--a cause to which he remains totally committed.

I also want to place on record my appreciation of an early and trusted mentor of my political career, Mary Redpath, who, sadly, died just a week after the general election. Much of what I learned about election campaigning I learned from Mary, and she will be missed by all those who knew her in the Labour party and outside it.

As many hon. Members may know, the constituency known as Morley and Rothwell, which includes the major community of Middleton, straddles the southern boundary

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of that great northern city, Leeds. The complexion of the constituency has changed considerably over the past 20 years. It was once dominated by mills and mines, and played a significant part in the industrial revolution. Part of its boundary is formed by the still-functioning Middleton railway, the first commercial railway in the world.

The last mines closed in the 1980s, during that terrible decade of industrial decay. One former mining community is called Lofthouse, whose place name means an upper chamber. If we ever come to consider a new name for the other place once its reform is complete, perhaps we could call that upper Chamber the "Lofthouse of Lords", in memory of the ordinary people who really made this country great.

Some traditional occupations survive, however, and I am pleased to report that from where I live in East Ardsley, I can still see fields full of rhubarb, because we sit on the edge of the great Yorkshire rhubarb-growing triangle. Rhubarb-growing was a flourishing trade in the 19th century, and I am told that today rhubarb is still considered a great delicacy and is served in the best London restaurants. Thankfully, the constituency does not rely entirely on the vagaries of the London restaurant scene to provide high employment, good education and improving health facilities.

Since 1997, unemployment has dropped by 34 per cent., not by chance but by choice in the context of a stable, growing economy. Our primary school results have improved markedly, and we have four new primary schools planned, with building work starting imminently on one of them. One of our high schools, Rodillian school, has just been awarded arts college status. That will bring the extra resources needed to raise standards across the curriculum, which will focus on the performing, visual and media arts.

Bricks and mortar are being laid for the biggest health facility the constituency has seen in 20 years, which is part-funded by Leeds city council and is to be managed by local people serving on the board of the new primary care trust, which I expect will be in place soon. We have approval for the Leeds supertram, which will serve a large part of the constituency and the wider area, with a park-and-ride terminal at Tingley. In Rothwell, where once we had a coal mine, we now have a brand new country park.

Morley, Middleton and Rothwell is deservedly a popular area. That fact brings its fair share of problems, which I am sure will be familiar to many Members. Housing development has placed great pressure on the immediate countryside and the roads are increasingly congested. Even Morley, it seems, now has its own mini-rush hour. However, the problems of affluence sit cheek by jowl with the problems of deprivation. Part of the constituency is classified as being in the top quartile of the indices of multiple deprivation published by the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. There is still poor housing; there are still excessively high rates of heart disease; there are still youngsters who turn to drugs; and there is still a fear of crime which no politician inebriated with statistics will eradicate.

In 1997, we were elected to tackle those problems and I think that people have given us credit for the start that we have made. However, to paraphrase one of Morley's

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most famous sons, Herbert Asquith, we can no longer say "wait and see", because what we now want is delivery, delivery, and delivery. This has been a theme of the general election and of the debate on the Gracious Speech. It has been said that the low turnout occurred because voters could see no difference between those of us sitting on this side of the Chamber and those on the other. I must say that after only a few days sitting in the Chamber, the difference has been all too plain for me to see and hear.

Perhaps the low turnout happened because electors felt powerless. They have witnessed violent demonstrations on the usually peaceful streets of Gothenburg and elsewhere. Perhaps, we are told, people feel powerless to affect the emerging shape of Europe, or to influence the most powerful nation on earth, where democracy produced an ambiguous result that is nevertheless being taken as a mandate to challenge hard fought-for international agreements on peace and sustainable development. Perhaps people feel powerless to tackle the mysterious forces of global competition, which, unhindered, pick up and deposit wealth wherever the markets choose. "Where", voters might ask, "is our say? Where is our voice to be heard in these markets?"

However, these expressions of powerlessness are nothing compared with what people can experience in their own lives if we do not deliver what they expect. Real powerlessness is to be in pain, waiting too long for a hospital bed. Real powerlessness is hiding at home, fearful of going out or of facing the yobs who will make our lives a misery if we challenge them. Real powerlessness is sitting on a train or waiting on a platform wondering what time we might get home. Most importantly, real powerlessness is not being able to enjoy the basic human right to a decent standard of living, and being excluded both economically and socially from participating in society. We must tackle those basic issues if we are to be judged a success in this second term.

I have referred to the mines that used to exist in my constituency. Most of them suffered from routine disasters that claimed the lives of many miners. When reading the history of those often merciless workplaces, I am struck by the everyday acceptance, in days not that long gone, of death and injury as a routine and unavoidable hazard. But I am also struck by the fact that not every employer of the age necessarily believed that inhumane conditions and appalling privations led to greater productivity.

Increased productivity is indeed one of the pillars of a competitive economy, but to another famous son of Morley, Sir Titus Salt, it was conceivable that workers and their families could be treated humanely, live in decent housing and have their lives to live and that that ideal could be supported by hard-edged commercial logic. In the Victorian age of laissez-faire markets, it was perhaps surprising that businesses could flourish and prosper with such enlightened owners.

To listen to the rhetoric of the global market, one might assume that, if any such businesses were established today, they would fail immediately, their bottom lines burdened with the cost of social cohesion. Is it not ironic that some companies can value good will in millions, but that the good will of the work force and their families rarely gets a mention until it is time to push through their redundancy packages? Therefore, I welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech

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We need to co-operate internationally to secure trade that benefits all people and all nations, not just those who have already gained lucrative markets for themselves and positions of dominance that hurt developing countries. We need a trade round that reflects people's aspirations for sustainable development, not the rapacious destruction of the world in which we live. We need a trade round that elevates stability and quality of work to the same rank as the freedom to invest.

We also need international co-operation that functions openly and transparently and in which the democratic forces always lead and can be held accountable. As elected representatives, we face renewed pressure about strengthening our accountability, for that is one way to address the democratic deficit. Throughout the Gracious Speech, there are clear commitments to devolution, to opening up key public institutions and to continuing the reform of our constitutional structures. I welcome all those.

The theme of the Gracious Speech is spelled out in "inclusivity". That word does not trip off the tongue easily, nor have I heard anyone use it in the pub or the supermarket. I am sure that more colourful words could be used to excite interest in the work on which we have embarked, but if we do not succeed, much more colourful language, and worse, will be used to chronicle our failure.

Whether we use the word "inclusive" or not, let us show it in our actions and deliver it in practice. Then, in four or five years, it will be a case not of third term lucky, but third term well deserved.

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